Friday, November 16, 2007

Memo to TCM's Robert Osborne: Dalton Trumbo was a Communist!

By Nicholas Stix

Men’s News Daily, August 22, 2005

On Thursday night, Turner Classic Movies showed the wartime picture, A Guy Named Joe (1943), starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, and Van Johnson. Tracy plays the ghost of a dead flier who is assigned by his commanding officer, Lionel Barrymore (yeah, even heaven had Army Air Corps squadrons!), to be the guardian angel of Johnson, a hotshot flier. Matters are complicated by the fact that Johnson is falling in love with the girl Spence left behind, spunky, accomplished flier, Irene Dunne, and Spence, though dead, is jealous. (Steven Spielberg remade this in 1989 as Always, which I have not seen. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman, Always became one of Spielberg’s rare box-office bombs.)

TCM’s resident film historian and host, Robert Osborne, said that Joe’s screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, “was accused of being a communist.” Osborne, who never followed up by saying whether the charge was true, suggested that Trumbo was yet another of the legions of victims of “red-baiting.”
But the historical record shows that Trumbo was indeed a communist. In fact, he joined the Party in 1943, the same year A Guy Named Joe was released. So, why was Osborne dishonest?

The “McCarthyism” myth has always functioned the same way: By saying that legions of creative people were the “victims” of rightwing “paranoia,” and were blacklisted for their leftwing “leanings.” Heck, according to the New York Times, even spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who passed on atom bomb secrets to our Soviet enemies, were “victims” of “hysteria.”

Things look a lot different, once one determines that the blacklisted Hollywood Ten were in fact communists, who believed in the armed overthrow of the American government, and in replacing that government with a communist dictatorship, in which people who disagreed with them would not only be blacklisted, but thrown into gulags, tortured, and/or murdered.

Beginning on May 8, 1947, under subpoena, some 41 Hollywood figures appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was investigating communist infiltration in Hollywood. HUAC members asked each witness if he was or ever had been a member of the Communist Party, and if he knew the names of other people who were Party members. Thirty-one witnesses cooperated with the committee; ten refused to cooperate. Those ten became known as the Hollywood Ten: Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Robert Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo. The Hollywood Ten were ultimately charged with contempt of Congress and jailed for 6-12 months each. All but Dmytryk were officially blacklisted in Hollywood for years. Most worked under pseudonyms until the early 1960s, when the blacklist ended. Dmytryk came back after serving his sentence, cooperated with the committee, and picked up his career where he had left off.

Today, “historians” of “McCarthyism” tell us that those Hollywood figures, such as Elia Kazan, who testified before the HUAC, were willing to name people who had been members of left-wing groups, rather than go to prison for contempt of Congress. As the saying goes, a half-truth is a whole lie. HUAC wasn’t interested in “people who had been members of left-wing groups,” it was interested in people who had been members of the Communist Party. At the time, there were many “leftwing groups” that were not openly communist; the majority were Communist fronts, while others were run by socialist anti-communists. Yes, leftwing anti-communists existed at the time; some of them founded the movement that is today known as neoconservatism.

We are also frequently told, by leftwing propagandists who do not know the difference between the Senate and the House, that in 1947 Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R, WI) was a member of or the chairman of the HUAC, or somehow working with it. But McCarthy was not a member of the House, had only been sworn into office in January, 1947, and did not begin his crusade until 1950.

Such propagandists also do not tell us of the threat of communists and Soviet spies in high places at the time (Julius Rosenberg, Alger Hiss), or of the threat of war with the Soviet Union. Forty years later, the release of the Venona Tapes showed that the domestic communist threat was indeed as widespread as charged in the “rightwing hysteria.”

The cover-up of the truth behind the Hollywood Ten and domestic subversion at the time is so pervasive that the leading web pages cited by google for members of the group compete with each other as to who can censor more of the truth. Under Herbert Biberman, for instance, the first of 3,870 entries is that of Spartacus,” a British communist group. (It is named after the Spartacus Group, founded in Wilhelmine Germany by communists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.) Spartacus censors the fact that Biberman had been a member of the Communist Party.

The anonymous entry for Biberman at Wikipedia, which is reprinted verbatim at, goes Spartacus one better, in censoring even the reasons why Biberman was subpoenaed by HUAC in the first place. (Wikipedia’s anonymity does its readers no favors.)

“Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Jewish family, he is best known for being one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of MPAA members working in various jobs in the Hollywood film industry who were cited for contempt of Congress during the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. The contempt conviction earned Biberman six months in jail, and he was blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studio bosses.”
Someone who didn’t know the truth would think that Congress had been randomly sending out subpoenas to poor sods, and then throwing them into jail, when they didn’t comply with the subpoenas.

The funny thing is, the Hollywood Ten supported tyrannies that did randomly arrest and imprison poor sods!

Communists, both those who lived through the period, and their latter-day supporters, paint anti-communists as paranoid and unjust, and the communists as “victims.” But such propagandistic revisionism won’t wash. Depending on the retelling, the Hollywood Ten invoked the First (freedom of opinion and association) or the Fifth (freedom from self-incrimination) Amendment, before the HUAC. Neither strategy makes any legal sense to me. Congress was not criminalizing them for their opinions or for associating with certain groups. And self-incrimination wasn’t at issue, because membership in the Communist Party was not illegal. Thus, no one who testified that he was presently or had been a member of the Communist Party would be incriminating himself.

That people who had contempt for the entire Bill of Rights should invoke it is nothing knew; however, it was poetic justice that for once such an attempted abuse failed.

The Hollywood Ten refused to testify based not on fear of legal retribution, but based on the orders of the Communist Party itself. In 2002, F.X. Feeney wrote of director Edward Dmytryk,

Dmytryk felt that the Hollywood Ten's first confrontation with Congress (which rapidly deteriorated into a shouting match) might have had a more peaceful outcome–that indeed there might have been less furor and no blacklist–except that the Communist Party, pressuring Dmytryk and the rest of the Ten, wanted the propaganda advantage of a defiant martyrdom. “The Ten had been sacrificed to the Party's purpose,” he writes in Odd Man Out. “If I were going to be a martyr, I wanted the privilege of choosing my martyrdom, and making my family suffer to protect American representatives of a foreign agency would certainly not be it.”

As Michael Mills wrote in 1998 in Blacklist: A Different Look at the 1947 HUAC Hearings,

In his autobiography Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist, Walter Bernstein, contributing writer for The New Yorker, and former screenwriter, claimed that while he was working at Columbia Pictures, he and Director Robert Rossen, would set out deliberately to include some leftist point of view in a particular scene. They left it up to studio head Harry Cohn to delete the unwanted scenes. Rossen, an overt Communist, was perturbed at his exclusion as one of the original Hollywood Ten! He never got over “being snubbed in such an unsavory manner!” Here, for the first time, one of the key players of the Hollywood left admitted purposefully and deliberately to including pro-Communist messages in movie scripts.

It was a point of “honor” for the Hollywood Ten to follow the orders of the Communist Party, and not denounce fellow communists, so that a totalitarian dictatorship could be imposed on America, in which people would be forced to denounce their friends – or die. (For an immensely readable history of secret police, including the role of denunciation in Russia, Nazi Germany, and other countries, see historian Robert J. Stove’s The Unsleeping Eye: Secret Police and Their Victims.)

Initially, a group of Hollywood luminaries, the Committee for the First Amendment, which included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and John Huston, supported the Hollywood Ten, but they were so embarrassed by the Ten’s theatrics in the House, that they renounced them.

The continuing claims that the Hollywood Ten were “victims” ring false. Only someone who believes in and practices tolerance and “live and let live,” can credibly defend them. Someone who believes in jailing, torturing, and executing dissenters can not honestly complain when one of their number gets subpoenaed. But that’s one of the problems with communists — they’re compulsive liars!

Thus, it is very difficult for leftists to defend the Hollywood Ten without lying and/or obfuscating. In such defenses, they are speaking to comrades and to people who don’t know the score. And since communists and their sympathizers in education, academia, and the media have had so much success over the past forty-plus years misrepresenting the postwar communist threat, the majority of the population doesn’t know the score. And so, the propagandists don’t tell you that the Hollywood Ten were communists. Meanwhile, the defenders of the Hollywood Ten themselves believe in persecuting and blacklisting anyone who disagrees with them.

To get an idea of the breadth of the Left’s hypocrisy, since at least the late 1980s, the Leftists who control the media, schools, and higher education, have terrorized and blacklisted colleagues, not for seeking to destroy America, but for seeking to preserve her. Historian Alan Kors and lawyer Harvey Silverglate, the authors of The Shadow University, founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 1999 expressly to fight such persecution in higher education.
I have never heard any of those who speak compulsively of “McCarthyism” regarding the 1950s, take a stand against such repression, which, in the case of public institutions, is illegal. (In 1998, this writer was politically blacklisted by York College and Baruch College, both of the City University of New York system.)

Instead, they rail against non-existent “rightwing” repression. E.g., last spring, Frank Rich of the New York Times charged that the White House had engaged in repression by saying, a few days after the 911 attacks, that people should watch what they said. Conversely, I have never read Frank Rich take a stand against real political repression in America.

An exception to the above rule regarding the Left is Kirk Douglas, who bucked the Hollywood blacklist not only by hiring Dalton Trumbo to script Spartacus (1960), but by giving him screen credit, as opposed to the usual practice of either not hiring a blacklisted writer or having him write using a pseudonym. But then, Kirk Douglas – my favorite lefty — was always an exception to the rules. Douglas later hired the native Coloradan to script one of the screen’s greatest Westerns, the romantic, wistful, Lonely are the Brave (1962). Lonely … was the story of “Jack Burns” (Douglas), a 19th century cowboy, with a cowboy’s sense of honor, in a mid-20th century world that has no place for him — a stranger in a strange land. Nothing collectivist there. (Trumbo and Douglas both should have been up for Oscars for Lonely… but though the picture is now recognized as a classic, it was made on a shoestring, and made little splash at the time.)

To get an idea of how much trouble communists were and are, sixty and seventy years ago, leftists who were not communists – e.g., democratic socialists – initially permitted communists to join their organizations. But eventually, they had to throw them out, and bar any communists from joining, because they discovered that the communists only joined organizations, in order to take them over, and turn them into communist fronts.

In this regard, I had some experiences of my own. For most of the two years I attended SUNY Stony Brook (1978-80), I was the manager of the vegetarian, student cooperative restaurant, Harkness East. (The founder, Peter Hickman, I believe his name was, had been an undergrad at lefty Antioch College in Ohio, back when the phrase – lefty college — was not redundant. Antioch had a cooperative Harkness dorm, if I recall correctly.) I was briefly friendly with Mitch Cohen, the leader of the communist Red Balloon group. I was only friendly with Mitch briefly because, good communist that he was, he was constantly double-dealing, manipulating, and stabbing people in the back.

Once, following some sort of political demonstration we had both attended, Mitch accompanied me to Harkness as my guest. Immediately, he started musing aloud about taking over the place. Fortunately, he decided against trying a power play. He wouldn’t have succeeded, but the already shaky operation might not have survived a power struggle. Indeed, when I left a few months later to attend school in then-West Germany, Harkness went under.

As Michael Mills has observed, it was a leftwing Democrat president, Harry Truman, who required loyalty oaths of government employees.

Mills has also argued that one must distinguish between the 1947 Hollywood Ten, and the blacklisting of over 300 Hollywood figures (some of whom were not communists) that began in 1951, when Joseph McCarthy was at the height of his influence.
And yet, consider the testimony, or rather lack thereof, of producer Paul Jarrico, as recounted by Mills. Asked by the committee, “In the event of a war between Russian and America, would you support the United States?,” Jarrico remained silent. His silence wasn’t out of reverence for the Bill of Rights, but out of allegiance to the Soviet Union.

People speak of rightwing “hysteria,” but the truth of the matter is that during the twelve years of FDR’s reign, communists had taken an ever stronger foothold at the highest levels of American life. FDR is once supposed to have responded to criticism of communists by saying, “Some of my best friends are communists.”

And as Lowell Ponte has noted, Roosevelt’s “New Deal government, as liberal journalist Carl Bernstein of Woodword [sic] & Bernstein fame acknowledged in his autobiographical book Loyalties, was overflowing with thousands of Communist Party members, including Bernstein's parents.”

And the American people were fed up. If rightwing hysteria was a problem, it was in response to years of leftwing hysteria, subversion, and intrigue. And today, things are 1000 times worse in academia, the schools, and the media, than they were in 1947.
The best argument against the work of the HUAC isn’t that it violated the law or “victimized” people who were themselves seeking to destroy America, but that it encouraged a culture of denunciation, the same sort of culture that the communists and the Nazis had brought about in the nations they tyrannized.

And if you don’t like the blacklist, don’t get mad at the House of the Senate. The blacklist was entirely the creation of the Hollywood studios. And it was supported by the vast majority of the American people.

Dalton Trumbo was a communist, but he was a great writer and some kind of propagandist. He was so gifted, that he could sing hymns on behalf of the Western capitalist democracies he despised. In A Guy Called Joe, Lionel Barrymore tells Spencer Tracy that the guardian angels’ job is to protect the fliers, who are fighting for a man’s right to be free.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Trumbo was a pacifist. He was recruited to join the CPUSA by Ring Lardner JR. and according to Lardner it took some persuasion, but it was the CPUSA's anti-war stance that appealed to him so he joined.

Unknown said...

the sad thing about reactionary conservative authors is that their narrative is just so boring.

how many "truth be told" columns need to be written before you realize that nobody gives a shit.

and the cpusa was not about "the armed overthrow" of the US gov't.

does your "uncensored" simply referred to truth excised or what?

Anonymous said...

Self-identified communists hold a variety of views, including Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, council communism, Luxemburgism, anarchist communism, Christian communism, and various currents of left communism.

Dink Peck
TCM Schools